Cowan Palace: Drowning in Beauty Beyond a Grand Victorian Soap Opera and Other Chats With Margery Fairchild

This week, Ashley’s talking to Margery Fairchild about her new production!

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Featuring, Christy Crowley, Kirsten Dwyer, Katharine Otis, and Courtney Russell; Photo Credit: Basil Galloway

As we get ready to begin The Year Of Monkey and dive deeper into 2016’s second month, Dark Porch Theatre is preparing to kick off their new season! Pas de Quatre, opening at EXIT Studio in just a few days, is the poetic brainchild of Margery Fairchild who has spent years developing this work exploring the relationships between ballet dancers and their art.

Here to bring us further into the world of dancing, is the writer and director herself, Margery!

Please tell us a bit more about Pas de Quatre.

In 1845, Benjamin Lumley, the director at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London, had a brilliant idea; to bring together the four reigning Ballerinas of Europe and have them dance together. He also commissioned the famous choreographer Jules Perrot, to create the Divertisment (as it was billed) and the Pas De Quatre was the result of that collaboration. It is considered, along with La Slyphide and Giselle to be one of the seminal works of the Romantic Era in Ballet.

However, the mixing of these powerful celebrities with very distinct styles and personalities, proved somewhat volatile and many historians marvel that it even made it to the stage! Perrot had been married (and divorced) to one of the dancers, partner to two and Ballet Master to all. The dancers themselves had been subjected to incredible public scrutiny and as manufactured as their rivalries were, it still had a distinct impact on their working relationships.

The story has all the makings of a grand Victorian soap opera, but my goal with the project was to dig beyond that temptation.

How has the production evolved since you first began working on it?

I wrote Pas de Quatre as a screenplay in 2002, but it travelled to the back burner. In 2012, I wrote PDQ as a full Two Act play with a cast of 8, which had a staged reading as a part of DIVAfest. In 2014 PDQ morphed into a 50 minute long experimental dance/theatre piece and had a 4 performance workshop at DIVAFest. After several revisions and a new cast, it will debut as part of Dark Porch Theatre’s 2016 residency at Exit Theatre. It’s not a straightforward narrative. The story is deconstructed and organized to parallel the actual music score of the Ballet, a format that allows for greater exploration in the storytelling and character investigation.

As the show focuses on the relationship that forms between ballerinas and ballet, can you tell us a little bit more about your relationship and background with ballet?

I studied Ballet for 9 years at The Boston Ballet and I had a love/hate relationship with the experience. Ballet, like all Fine Art studies, created a foundation of discipline and dedication, but it was also incredibly difficult. While putting your body through the transformation needed to achieve the lines and perfection of the craft, one must deal with a lot of pain and disappointment. I never had the right body and feet to continue as a professional, but I still put myself through it out of love. I quit Ballet at 17 after multiple back and neck injuries. It took a couple years before I started studying Modern Dance in college and began to identify myself as a dancer again. Now as an actor and director, I’ve always recognized the edge and vision that as come from my formative training.

While the show may take place in London, 1845, what do you think San Francisco audiences in 2016 will most relate to?

The Dancers, like ghosts, almost appear as if summoned by the audience themselves and once conjured, they must play out their stories. The history is important, but it is not the lesson of the story, it’s about the people themselves. We connect to human stories, in so far as history repeats itself and we find ourselves navigating the same conflicts and trials despite the Age. I suppose that’s why I’m always drawn towards historical re-imaginings, because there’s so much to learn from it.

What’s been the biggest challenge in bringing this show to its feet?

The biggest challenge was casting. Finding actors with the dance/ movement background to pull off the physical requirements. Ballet isn’t something you can fake. I needed to craft the Play in a way that could accommodate different levels of strengths, but ultimately balance them.

What’s been your favorite moment of mounting this production so far?

The question: “Why do we put ourselves through this?”, being answered one night during the tail end of a Monday Night rehearsal, when the cast has had a collective breakthrough despite their exhaustion and you’re left smiling in wonder. The inevitable doubts being answered by the creative process itself. It keeps us coming back again and again!

What’s your favorite local place for a post show drink/snack?

I like to shake it up! PianoFight and the White Horse are the usual destinations these days.

What’s next for Dark Porch?

Dark Porch Theatre will be presenting the darkly hilarious The Diplomats! Written and Directed by DPT’s co-artistic director Martin Schwartz. It will run through the month of May on the EXIT Main Stage.

What’s next for you? Any projects you’ll be working on in the future or shows you’re excited to see?

I’ll be performing in and co producing The Diplomats in May. I’m also involved in the final shooting phase of the feature film, To No Good End, which I’ve co created with my fiancé Kindrid Parker… And then we’re getting married!

As far as shows I’m excited to see? I’m honestly overwhelmed with the wealth of good Indy theatre/dance/performance happening in this town right now, despite the struggles that artists have faced to stay here. Between Exit Theatre, PianoFight, CounterPulse all on the same block, it’s proof that we’re holding our own!

In 160 words characters or less, why do we need to see Pas de Quatre?

This play is only an hour and you will spend the entire 60 minutes drowning in beauty!

And, it gets even better Theater Pub readers! Margery has offered a special discount code for you! To get it, use: Code: DPTdiscount16; Discount: $10 off per ticket ($15 tix)!

Pas de Quatre runs Thursday – Saturday, February 11 – 27 at 8:00 p.m. with an additional matinee performance at 3 p.m. on February 20. For tickets and more information, please visit www.darkporchtheatre.org.

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Theater Around The Bay: The Audition and Casting Process (Emilio Rodriguez, Janet Bentley)

Part Two of Peter Hsieh’s interview with some of his favorite directors.

Last Time I interviewed Lana Russell and Stuart Bousel about the casting and audition process in regards to new works; here is part two with Emilio Rodriguez and Janet Bentley. I met Emilio while we were at the University of California, Irvine and the pleasure of working with him a year ago when he directed my play Interstate at the Detroit Fringe Festival. I met Janet when she directed the New York premiere of Interstate at T. Schreiber Studio theater. I had a great time working with both these theatre makers and they continue to be at the helm of new works in their respective art communities.

My play Interstate as directed by Janet Bentley.

My play Interstate as directed by Janet Bentley.

Tell us about your experience with new works. What do you enjoy about them? Why is it important to support that avenue of theatre?

Rodriguez: My love of new works didn’t really happen until I started writing. This is why I agree with Paula Vogel, that we need to encourage more people to write; because it changes the way one goes to the theatre and their investment in it.
Now, I not only write and direct new plays but I also curate several new play festivals. I am always excited when I open a new script. There is a spectrum of reactions I can have based on the writing. My favorite is finding something that makes me feel like the wind got knocked out of me. That moment where time stops for a second as you absorb the ending line or stage direction. The beauty of reading new works is that I do not have a cap on how many times I’ll feel that in my lifetime because there will always be more plays to read.

To me, new plays are just as exciting as new music. It’s counterintuitive to me that people will break the internet to buy Beyonce’s newest CD and stand outside in the pouring rain to wait for Best Buy to release Taylor Swift’s newest CD, but when a new play is produced, there is this skepticism; it’s as if everyone is waiting for the new work to have approval of the Pulitzer or a Tony. We need new work. We need new voices. Society is constantly evolving, so our stories need to change with us, just as our music does.

Emilio Rodriguez. Doesn’t want to hear Viola’s Ring monologue anymore.

Emilio Rodriguez. Doesn’t want to hear Viola’s Ring monologue anymore.

Bentley: I started my work in theatre, like most people, in acting. I was raised by an acting teacher who taught me everything I needed to know about The Method and I remember desperately loving text analysis for the actor when I was in my undergrad. Writing character biographies felt like a collaboration with my deepest self and the playwright and that always excited me. When I was accepted into the Iowa Playwright’s Workshop, I was introduced to the exciting process of working alongside living writers of various backgrounds and I was even more charged by the process because I could work together with these writers using active empathy in action – a most satisfying step beyond the silent investigation of works codified by a published final draft and/or the long since deceased and absent writer whose voice had been interpreted many times.

While many theatres often select the “tried and true” classic and/or contemporary well-known play or musical because they are financially looking for a “safe bet”, I am dedicated to the pursuit of new voices, new stories, and new perspectives to support and fulfill into new works because I feel that this is the only way to progress as a species.

What are some of the challenges of casting new works, especially for a festival or evening of multiple plays?

Bentley: Since festivals of new works are often bravely put up by organizations that may or may not have funding to pay the actors, the first challenge is to casting good actors willing to work for free/practically nothing. Of course, I have been working on building a network of smart, collaborative actors who are willing to donate their time to the promotion of new work. I often look for new play development-specific entries on actors’ resumes when casting because this does help me with my decisions. (On that note, I always advocate for some kind of stipend for actors whenever possible because everyone’s work should receive some kind of gesture of thanks).

Janet Bentley. Don’t ‘Sharon Stone’ her at auditions.

Janet Bentley. Don’t ‘Sharon Stone’ her at auditions.

Rodriguez: I try to do auditions for most of the festivals I manage, but this inevitably leads to a few stand out actors who all of the directors want to cast. Because of time constraints, our actors can only commit to so many shows which means that directors often have to compromise on casting. This changes the chemistry between the actors and sometimes the ideal actor that a director fought for doesn’t give the same performance when cast opposite another actor. This is why I sometimes think it’s better to not do auditions for festivals. If all of the directors are comfortable casting on their own, as was the case with the Detroit Fringe festival this year, then I skip the audition process.

There are a lot of people for and against pre-casting. There are a lot of practical reasons it is done (i.e. Writer/ Director had a specific actor in mind), but a lot of people bring up the arguments against it as well. What are your thoughts on pre-casting, and as producer/directors what would you say to Directors and actors in regards to this?

Rodriguez: When I was primarily an actor, I was adamantly against pre-casting. I felt it was unfair to never be given a shot. I just wanted to be seen and have an unbiased opportunity to share my craft. Now that I work more as a playwright and director, I have changed my mind. To me the most important thing is that the best person is cast, whether I find them or they find me. I think it is important that people have the chance to be seen, but also, in order to best honor the playwright, I believe that seeking out talent in advance is sometimes necessary. I try not to precast but I do need to make sure I can cast properly. I usually hold an audition, but I also ask actors who I’m strongly considering for the parts to audition so that I have options if I don’t find the appropriate new talent at the audition. I hope that’s a fair compromise because I do see the validity in both sides of the argument.

Bentley: I think that having people in mind is a natural, inevitable part of the process, but officially pre-casting is a “safe-guard” that can seriously stifle my favorite part of directing: being surprised and inspired by actors. There have been two instances when pre-casting proved to be unwise: once I had someone in mind for the role of Baal, I precast him, and then he moved to Chicago before the show so I held auditions. I saw an actor that I never thought would work and he surprised me – the role brought something out of him that was dying to get out and I was relieved that the other actor had actually left town. The other time, an actress was precast in a short play by the artistic director and though she delivered a decent performance in the end, I was haunted by the audition of another actress who just nailed it. (Yes, they actually made me hold auditions for the role in order to “keep up appearances” – something I would implore other artistic directors never to enforce on their directors).

On the flip side of this: when playwrights write something for a specific actor, this is a different sort of animal. I have a number of actors whose unique qualities are so inspiring that I am entertaining a couple of playwrights with the idea of writing something for these actors (also, I sympathize greatly with the predicament of some actors who are often passed over because they are so unique and specific a type that there are either no roles for them or no directors creative enough to embrace an unconventional interpretation of the production).

Pre-casting. This is the girl.

Pre-casting. This is the girl.

What are some things actors do that make you want to cast them, conversely what are some of the things they do that make you not want to cast them?

Rodriguez: I love working with actors who will try anything and make it work. The skeptical actors, the ones who say “I feel like my character wouldn’t do that” are the ones I tend not to work with again. That’s actually my least favorite phrase and usually a red flag for me in the rehearsal process. I think it’s great that they have a sense of their character, but when they negate choices too early it makes their characters one dimensional. In my opinion, whether it’s a new work or a published script, every character needs to do something unexpected or “out of character” at least once in the play. If an actor truly feels like my direction or my dialogue is detrimental to the performance, we can settle that after they give me a good, fully-committed stab at it.

Bentley: Things that get you cast: being prepared, making choices, being in the moment, punctuality, flexibility, helpfulness, openness, hunger for the process, and courtesy. Conversely, if the actor hasn’t worked on the material and at least googled for definitions and pronunciations, if s/he doesn’t take an adjustment, if s/he is late, or if any of these examples of disregard for the process, I am not interested in casting such an actor.

The minute you walk into the building, you’re “onstage”. If you come to a studio and there is a production SM/audition monitor receiving you and handing you paperwork, which is the beginning of your audition. If you are rude to her/him, the casting directors, etc, will know about it. If you are courteous, organized, and awesome, we will know. If you are to audition with a reader and the scene calls for touching, don’t just touch the reader. Smile, introduce yourself, and politely ask if it is okay to touch their hand or shoulder and accept their answer.

If you are performing a monologue, most audition books warn against using the casting directors and say to find an eye-line above their heads. However, if the text suggests a direct address to the audience, ask the casting directors what their preference is.
What you wear: Example: if you are auditioning for Doubt, don’t buy a nun or priest’s costume and wear it to the audition. Wear something that suggests the tone of the characters like black and white. If you do feel compelled to put on a veil, check what kind of nun you’re going out for before depicting the wrong order (Sisters of Charity wore bonnets and a certain kind of dress similar to their founder in the 19th century so do the research before making the assumption that Sister Aloysis looks like she’s about to sing “Climb Every Mountain”). If you’re going out for the perfect housewife, don’t dress like a 1970s punk. If you’re going out for a slick lawyer, don’t dress like a plumber. Why am I saying this? These things have happened! Neutral and professional is best: darker colors on the feet and pants or skirt / lighter on top. You don’t want the casting directors staring at your feet.

Oh and please do not Sharon Stone the readers and casting directors. Remember Basic Instinct? Don’t do it.

Head Shot: if you don’t look like your head shot, get new ones.
Resume: Please keep it on one page and make sure it is formatted in a professional way (Google templates for entertainment/actor resumes).

Remember Basic Instinct? Newman does.

Remember Basic Instinct? Newman does.

Monologue you’d be okay never hearing again.

Bentley: Bridal Registry from A…My Name Is Alice, The Tuna monologue from Laughing Wild, Anything from Steel Magnolias, Crimes of the Heart, and Star-Spangled Girl.

Rodriguez: Viola’s ring monologue. I hear it every time I direct a Shakespeare show. For contemporary monologues, there is one about a woman eating her ex-husband’s divorce papers and dipping them in Ketchup. It’s a great monologue, but I’ve heard it done by a phenomenal actress so now every time other people do it, I automatically remember how great the first actress was and I tune out as I reminisce.

Some higher power has made you Supreme Overlord of Theatre. Cast your favorite play with any cast you want.

Rodriguez: This is such a fun question! I really want to direct a new play called The Living Life of the Daughter Mira by Matthew Paul Olmos. My dream cast would be Tony Revolori as Lazaro, Aimee Carrero as Luna/Mira, Gina Rodriguez as Maya, Rosie Perez as Lupe, and Raul Esparza as Efren.

Bentley: A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee with John Noble (Fringe TV Show) as Tobias, Helen Mirren as Agnes, Kristine Sutherland as Edna, Anthony Stewart Head as Harry, and Parker Posey as Julia.

Kristine Sutherland and Anthony Stewart Head. Probably familiar if you watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Kristine Sutherland and Anthony Stewart Head. Probably familiar if you watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Emilio Rodriguez is a theatre artist nomad currently residing in Detroit. His most recent play “Swimming While Drowning” was part of the Activate Midwest Festival and the Latino Theatre Commons Carnaval of New Work. It also earned him a residency with UMS, Djerassi, and the Mitten Lab. As a producer, he has worked on the Detroit Fringe Festival, The Michigan Playwrights Festival at Theatre Nova and The Women’s Play Fest at Two Muses Theatre. Women’s Play Fest at Two Muses; Detroit Free Press on Detroit Fringe.

Janet Bentley is a freelance theatre director, actor, writer, dramaturg, literary manager, composer, sound designer, singer, amateur photographer, and company member for the New York-based Nylon Fusion Theatre Company. Janet holds an MFA in dramaturgy from the University of Iowa and a BA in theatre from the University of South Florida (Tampa). She currently lives in New York, NY. Now Playing: http://www.nylonfusion.org/#!comes-a-faery/c1q11 (Sound and original music)
Updates: https://janeturgy.wordpress.com/theatre/.

Peter Hsieh is a playwright from San Jose, California. Recent credits include his play Interstate at the Detroit Fringe Festival and T. Schreiber Studio, Argus at the San Francisco Olympians Festival, and Maybe at Brooklyn College as part of GI60 2015. Additionally, his works have been produced and developed by Hollywood Fringe Festival, Piney Fork Press, Douglas Morrisson Theatre, NYU Performing Arts Club, Nylon Fusion Collective, Actor’s Company, Brooklyn College, North Park Playwright’s Festival, Viaduct Theatre, SPROUT, San Francisco Theatre Pub, World Premiere Weekend, City Light’s Theater Company, GI60, San Jose Rep’s Emerging Artist Lab, West Valley College, and Fringe of Marin. Peter is a graduate from the University of California, Irvine.

You’re Being Watched (Or: Too Much of Everything Except Helen of Troy)

It’s the last Cowan Palace of 2014!

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As I write this, a yawn catches my throat. Not from boredom but from sheer exhaustion. I mean, I can’t be alone in proclaiming this year a tiring one, right? Hands down, 2014 will go be remembered in the Ashley Cowan history books as a time of action, impact, and extremes. Within the same time frame, I’ve experienced huge highs of celebration and joy and also cried harder and used more profanity than ever before.

For being such a dramatic year though, I have to mention that I also completed it without acting in a play! Aside from some staged readings, I’ve gone through these last few months sans a production to truly call my own. A first for my time in the Bay Area. But yet it’s been an interesting writing year for me. Along with hitting some personal goals, I’ve also angered and hurt people through writing Cowan Palace that I never intended or imagined would be so impacted or influenced. And that’s a heavy heartbreak I think about everyday. While I don’t regret being truthful to myself and all of you, I am sorry if my words wounded as that was never what I set out to accomplish. Sometimes my feelings got the best of me and I didn’t always realize how they could be understood. With all the moments of this past year, I know I’ll look back and realize all the things I learned and all the things I was meant to learn.

And, I’m not the only one. Last night, my fellow Theater Pub bloggers met for our semi annual discussion to chat about areas we’d like to celebrate and places we could improve.

Overall, we seemed optimistic and eager to take the lessons of 2014 into a new year. And the big theme of the evening was, “you’re being watched”. Meaning, folks are turning to us as a media source. We’re writing things that people are paying attention to and we’re continuing to take a stance in the Bay Area theater scene. Cool, right? So thank you for that!

And, duh, I’m not saying that EVERYONE is watching us and we’re tots the most popular thing in town; but in terms of the local artistic community, we’re a voice that continues to get stronger. Which is something that comes with responsibility.

I’m grateful to be a part of that. I’ve been humbled these past several months in countless ways. Somehow, I found a comfort in admitting my fears and frustrations as a theater-maker and as a gal just trying to get through the day through this blog. I’m grateful to be involved with a team of other writers who have helped pushed me forward when I needed a little more strength and also who could balance my thoughts when I wanted to let my emotions drive.

In the middle of our meeting break, Stuart shared with me a fortune he received recently that he’s decided to keep close to heart (literally, he’s carrying it around because it’s a good one). It reads, “You will continue to take chances and be glad you did”.

I’m going to steal that thought for a bit. Yes, most of the time, this year felt like “too much” of just everything. Too many changes, too many feelings, and not enough time to process it. But, I think it also made us bolder and braver. Partially, because we didn’t really have a choice. We had to keep going, we had to move forward.

But, I am tired! And I’m ready to let everything settle again. Next year will be full of new things, too. I aim to be better blogger and a stronger member of this community because if you are watching, I’d like to make you proud. Or at least, entertain you with my struggles. And maybe next year, I’ll attempt to actually include Helen of Troy in a blog (because for some reason, Stuart’s blogs about her continue to be some of Theater Pub’s most popular articles)! Until then, many thanks to my fellow Theater Pub writers and to all of you who have made 2014 so wondrous.

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Cowan Palace: Casting Makes Me Itchy

…and scratching it makes it worse.

Ashley Cowan brings you this blog.

Ashley Cowan brings you this blog.

Casting is the worst. Yes, I know I have tendency to say a lot of stuff is the worst but sometimes, putting a cast together can be tricky. If you’ve been in the Bay Area theater scene for more than a minute, I’m sure you have a story of some casting nightmare. Either as an actor, director, writer, producer, WHATEVER, we’ve all been there at some point.

Yet even as I sit down to put this blog together, my heart starts to race and I get itchy. (I have a bad habit of breaking out into hives when I’m uncomfortable or nervous. Sexy, right?) Because I don’t want to go publicly airing all my theatrical horror stories out and about! This is a small community and I want to be able to work again!

It never seems like the right time to be honest with these types of experiences. They’re better saved for tipsy parties and whispered secrets in the back. Or passive aggressive blog entries and tears in dream journals. But when we can’t openly talk about these things as they’re unfolding, how do they have any chance to improve?

I’m sorry, guys. I think we can do better! This can be a brutal business and I think there’s some room for improvement. In my experience, too often across a range of theatre companies, I’ve found an unfortunate lack of communication throughout a production’s development. Maybe it’s just one too many callbacks because the “right” people weren’t there during an earlier audition or perhaps it’s hearing that the producer loves you but the director wanted to go for someone with a different look. Sometimes casting can really put the “itch” in bitch (am I right?!). And even once your group is set and you high five those involved, the production process and run can be a whole different beast.

Okay. Calm down, Ashley. No one wants to work with a Debbie Downer (waaaaahh waaaahhh). You have to understand that I come from a place of love. If I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t be. I love being involved in as many capacities as possible. I’ve been fortunate enough to wear a few different hats during my time in this community. And I love hats. But each one certainly comes with its own set of challenges.

I’ve directed pieces and made strong casting choices that the writer did not envision. I’ve written work and seen it played by characters I didn’t expect. As an actor, I’ve watched writers undermine a director’s creative power by interjecting themselves deep into the rehearsal process. I’ve observed directors ignore a playwright’s opinion in lieu of their own. And I’ve struggled to honor the true intent of the play without the right guidance. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.

One thing about San Francisco these days is that there’s lots of new stuff being done. Which means, often, the writer is very much a part of the production process. And while I haven’t had a ton of plays produced here, I still tend to have a hard time letting the grasp around my words go and allowing someone else to come in and direct them. Often, when I’m writing, I’m envisioning very specific details that don’t always come across in my stage directions or character descriptions. So when a director and I don’t see eye to eye on who should play a role, it opens up an interesting discussion. Who should get the final say? At what point does a writer have to step back and allow their story to come to life through the collaboration of others? Who ultimately takes ownership for the words once they’ve been sent out into the world?

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Like anything else, I suppose it’s a delicate balance. We all (hopefully) want what’s best for the show. Our communication could be stronger. We need to be able to talk about these weaknesses and struggles for the sake of the art. Roles need to be defined and agreed upon. Writers need to trust their words and their directors, actors need to be confident to take risks and strong enough to stick to the text, and producers need to encourage these types of instincts and conversations.

When I’m not being Debbie Downer, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by words gaining new input and vision. I’ve witnessed the positive effects of a strong collaboration matched by earnest communication. And I like being a part of something with purpose. While casting and putting a show on its feet may never be the easiest thing in the world, we can each strive to be more aware of our place and how we can best move forward together. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to find some Calamine lotion.

Cowan Palace: From Hugs and Cuddles to Blades and Waves

Ashley approaches the aftermath of a yes, a new voice, and what it means to be a kind artist.

Another month has come and gone. Mercury hopped out of retrograde and we’re about to spring forward in time. And considering I almost always have a song from some musical in my head blaring on repeat, I keep coming back to the line, “March went out like a lion, a-whippin’ up the water in the bay” from Roger and Hammersein’s beloved, “Carousel”. Because it sure seemed like it took a lot to get here. And the waves continue to make their presence known.

Throughout these past two weeks, since my last article ran, I must have written a separate follow-up at least a dozen times. A lot of the drafts can be found in the various streets of San Francisco after choosing to try and “walk out” some of my many feelings. The steps would range from stunned to apologetic to angry to hurt to sad… and so on and so on. Emotions have never been a lacking area for me, after all.

When we had our end of the year team pow-wow over sangria, the other Theater Pub writers nicknamed me “Hugs and Cuddles” as most of my past work tended to focus on building people up, highlighting the positive sides of the local scene, and wearing the heart that longs to love on my thrift store sleeves. I was truthful, sure, but often it was easy.

Two weeks ago, my emotional honesty took a turn in a new direction. Using Theater Pub as a platform, I stood up and shared something with a slightly different pulse. Suddenly and all at once, “Hugs and Cuddles” stepped aside to allow another perspective. And to say I was ill prepared for the reaction is an extreme understatement.

Now, before I go too much further, I would like to reiterate some points that may not have been clear. I wrote the piece because I wanted to acknowledge my very personal feelings as an artist and attempt to create a conversation about what that role translates to within a community. It wasn’t written out of anger or because I believed I had been the helpless victim of creative theft. I didn’t script it with the intent to hurt anyone or bad mouth any project, past or present. And I truly apologize if it was understood in that manner.

But I’m not sorry I wrote it.

My new alter ego "Blades and Waves". She'll cut you. But with a cake knife. We're working on her...

My new alter ego “Blades and Waves”. She’ll cut you. But with a cake knife. We’re working on her…

I’ve spent my entire life obsessed with the idea of “kindness”. It’s the force that has governed my whole existence and I consider it both a blessing and a curse. I’m much more driven by it than by competition and in an industry that thrives off of determination rather than simply rewarding the nice guy, it hasn’t always worked to my advantage.

However, being nice is not the same as being weak. In fact, within these last few weeks, I’ve found that to be clearer than ever when choosing to stay away from cruel words as my retaliation; even when they were shot at me with the aim to wound. It took all my strength to hold my hurt tongue and chose to move forward without harboring a bad taste in my mouth.

I’ve also gained strength in the company of some other amazing writers over these past few weeks that have chosen to speak honestly but professionally, strongly but not meanly. From reading open Facebook discussions with a playwright and an audience member to a blogged candid exploration of the writing process, it’s been fascinating to see the bigger conversations that can stem from online discourse. I find myself an active participant in the larger picture of creative development. While I will never advocate for other artists to be ripped apart, I do feel that writing honest, thoughtful work serves a greater good and it would be an injustice and a step back to limit our voices to safe, held responses.

While I understand my feelings may not be shared by all audiences, it doesn’t mean they are invalid. We have to be able to converse and connect if we want to create something worthwhile. And sometimes that means you have to step away from the “Hugs and Cuddles” persona in search of an alternative voice. It’s certainly not the easiest thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do if it means we’re evolving as a group and continuing to challenge each other.

As someone who spends a lot of time being her own personal mirror, these last two weeks have proven to be a time of more intense reflection. But I’ve also used the time to reach out to people all over the country who have crossed my path in one artistic way or another to discuss what it feels like to be a participant of art. And of life. It’s created a fire inside of me and I want to make s’mores. S’mores made out of feelings. Delicious feelings.

More than ever, I’m getting a better grasp on what’s important to me and what I want to focus on in the future. I want to keep the doors of communication open. If we’re reacting and responding to each other, it means we are keeping something alive. Thank you for giving me a chance to take a breath and providing me some air to continue. I love, love, love that I seek a life blessed with creativity. I’m always rooting for more work good work. Especially new pieces by women, for women, and starring women regardless of if I have any involvement on the project. I still appreciate kindness above almost anything and value a voice that contains the ability to hold strength while remembering the “Hugs and Cuddles”.

A typical "Hugs and Cuddles" picture. Knits AND pets?! There's so much to snuggle and love!

A typical “Hugs and Cuddles” picture. Knits AND pets?! There’s so much to snuggle and love!